Microsoft Surface Pro: Review of Reviews

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By David Gilbert | February 6, 2013 10:38 PM EST

The first round of reviews for Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet/laptop hybrid have arrived, and they are not what the company would have been hoping for.

Microsoft has taken a big risk by launching its own hardware into the hugely competitive tablet market. Not only does it risk alienating its OEM partners, but if the Surface tablets fail to sell, it could have a negative impact on Windows 8 as a whole.

Microsoft launched the first version of Surface at the end of 2012 to modest reviews, and according to figures from IDC it shipped a modest 900,000 units by the end of the year, though how many of those remain on store shelves is unclear.

While the second version of Surface may look very similar to the original, the Surface Pro is a completely different proposition.

Significantly heavier (680g vs 907g), slightly thicker (9.4mm vs 13.5mm), a lot more powerful (Tegra 3 vs Intel Core i5), a lot more expensive ($499 vs $899), a better screen (HD vs Full HD) and running a full version of Windows 8 compared to the diluted Windows RT running on the original, this is a true laptop replacement device.

It comes with the same innovative Type and Touch Covers as the Surface RT, which when attached offer an experience akin to typing on a proper laptop keyboard.

But is it any good? We've rounded-up the initial reviews to see what the reaction has been:

Walt Mossberg @ AllThingsD

The grandfather of tech journalism, Mossberg's opinions carry a lot of weight with readers in the US, and initially he seems impressed:

"The Pro is solidly built, with the same innovative metal kickstand that keeps it upright on a desk or table. It ran all the software I threw at it - both the new type and the old desktop type - speedily and well."

However, as well as bemoaning the cost (over $1,000 for the 64GB version when you add a Type Cover), Mossberg found the battery (which is much larger than the on the original Surface) to be very poor:

"In my tough battery tests the Surface Pro did pathetically. It lasted just under four hours between charges - less than half the stamina of the iPad on the same test"

Mossberg concludes:

"Like many products that try to be two things at once, the new Surface Windows 8 Pro does neither as well as those designed for one function."

Dan Gilmor @ The Guardian

Gilmor looks at the Surface Pro from the point of view of a tablet and finds it simply too heavy:

"As a tablet, the Pro leaves some things to be desired. It's far too heavy, for example, weighing in at [907g] - far heavier than the competition. It does have a kickstand, but only one viewing angle when using it. An adjustable kickstand would be better."

Gilmor also got around four hours battery life from the Surface, blaming the power-hungry Intel chip powering it. However it was the Core i5 chip which Gilmor felt was the one advantage the Surface Pro had:

"The Intel chip gives the Surface Pro an advantage, one that, in my tryout of the machine, led me to use it much more as a laptop-like computer than a tablet. It's a genuine Windows computer."

Gilmor concludes by calling the Surface Pro "an excellent beginning" hoping that Microsoft can "take it to a logical conclusion."

David Pierce @ The Verge

Pierce gives the Surface Pro screen some love, calling it "maybe the best laptop screen I've ever seen" - however it's not all good news:

"Having such a pixel-rich display does cause a slight problem with scaling in Windows. A lot of things are made too small by having pixels so close together, so Windows scales things up to 150 percent by default - that makes a lot of things big, and a lot of things blurry."

Pierce also praises the inclusion of a stylus:

"The Surface Pro comes with a Wacom-made, capacitive and pressure-sensitive stylus that is an awesomely useful companion to the device. The device itself even knows when your pen is nearby, showing a dot on the screen before you even tap; that's huge for using Photoshop, or anything else that requires a deft touch."

Mary Jo Foley @ ZDNet

A veteran Microsoft watcher, Foley doesn't see what Pierce saw in the screen, admitting that she didn't notice the higher resolution. However she did notice the snappier performance compared to the Surface RT:

"The Pro is definitely snappier and more "performant" (to use a bit of Microspeak). The lags I notice waiting for pages and sites to load on Windows RT are fewer and further between on the Pro."

Foley also questions Microsoft's characterisation of the device, saying it has shifted since launch with the company now telling potential customers "to evaluate the cost of the purchase of a Surface Pro to the cost of an iPad and a Macbook Air combined."

In the end, Foley says "the Surface Pro is just OK" adding she is "waiting/expecting Microsoft to do better, in terms of delivering a Windows 8 PC."

Steven Kovach @ Business Insider

Kovach focused on the Windows 8 operating system itself and found that despite liking the new tiled interface, there just wasn't enough Windows 8-optimised apps available:

"Microsoft wouldn't tell me how many Windows 8 apps are available now, but the number doesn't matter. What matters is I couldn't find many of the apps I wanted. Most notably, there still aren't apps for Twitter and Facebook, which forces you to use those services in a browser."

Kovach goes on to praise the performance of the Surface Pro, saying:

The Surface Pro boots up/shuts down a lot faster than my [MacBook] Air, and it wakes up from sleep mode before I can get to "two Mississippi." In that respect, it felt more like using a traditional tablet than a regular laptop. Very nice."

Kovach concludes by comparing the experience of using the Pro to using the original Surface RT, making it "tough to recommend a pricier and heavier device with bad battery life."

Must Read: Microsoft Surface RT Review [VIDEO]

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